Time out, December 2, 2011
By: David Cote
Gounod: Faust, Metropolitan Opera New York, 29. November 2011
Time Out Theater Review: "Faust"

In recent seasons, Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb has reached out to world-class directors to infuse the classic repertory with more theatrical pizzazz. Results have ranged from a minimalist La Traviata to a metatheatrical Sonnambula. Now comes Des McAnuff’s atomic-age interpretation of Gounod’s Faust. For Met traditionalists, it might seem like Gelb has made a pact with the devil.

This Faust is no longer an aged German philosopher who longs for youth and nubile mistresses: He’s a nuclear physicist circa 1945, suicidally depressed over his role in creating the A-bomb. Faust makes a bargain with Mephistopheles to regain his youth and innocence. He’s whisked back to 1914, to the outbreak of World War I, where he falls in love with pure and angelic Marguerite. Seduction, betrayal and damnation follow, all shadowed by mushroom cloud video projections, laboratory equipment, and a chorus in sterile white lab coats. This 20th-century frame is often evocative; other times it’s mere window dressing. However, the singers are always phenomenal, under the vigorous conducting of maestro Yannick Nézet-Seguin. Jonas Kaufmann has leading-man looks and a rich, baritonal tenor; soprano Marina Poplavskaya makes for a dreamy, tragic Marguerite; and Rene Pape steals his scenes as that satanic charmer, Mephistopheles.

Gounod’s 1859 score is glorious, even if the French-Romanticized libretto is too sentimental and melodramatic for my taste. So let’s give McAnuff credit for trying to dress Faust with gravitas and modern-day relevance. This high-concept, atomic Faust offers a few explosions-none of them too great to damage the classic.


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